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Grief and Loss – Big Boys Don’t Cry!

What do you do with your grief when loss happens?

So, Big Boys Don’t Cry?

In Scotland and probably, more generally, even just in the West, culturally, we learn to have a ‘stiff upper lip’. Often, as children, we were encouraged not to cry or told to ‘dry your tears’ but sadness is a perfectly justifiable and appropriate response to grief and loss. Whether the loss we are dealing with is the death of a pet or someone we love or if it’s connected to some colossal change in our life eg a geographical move, or a change of job, the feelings that we experience are real and painful. When we swallow our tears and don’t allow ourselves to feel the sadness which wells up inside of us it has to go somewhere. Repressing, for example, feelings of loss – what we regard as negative emotions – also dulls or numbs more positive emotions. Over years, without being able to allow ourselves to feel we eventually flat-line and it’s hard to feel even the ‘pleasant’ emotions we want to feel. In that sense, if we really want to feel joy and pleasure, we need to be prepared, at times, to also feel emotional pain.

It’s Not About Getting Over It…

What then is an appropriate level of sadness in response to grief and loss? Many people worry that they are ‘losing it’ because of what feels like an overwhelmingly sad response to loss. They want to quickly get ‘back to normal’ but when significant change causes us to experience feelings of loss, there is no ‘back to normal’ – ‘normal’ no longer exists. Really, there is no helpful answer to ‘what’s an appropriate response?’. Your reaction to grief and loss is exactly appropriate to you. Even if what you’re grieving seems insignificant to everyone else, it’s not insignificant for you. Being able to acknowledge that you’re feeling sad and allowing yourself to experience that sadness in whatever way is appropriate for you will help to process those feelings. Developing self compassion and being able to sit with yourself when you’re sad are two skills which anyone can learn. Too often, when sadness rises inside of us, we want to run from it, afraid of what it might do to us. What might it look like for you to be able to sit with those feelings and love yourself through them? Even more challenging, what might it look like for you to do that for someone else – not to offer help or advice but simply to sit with them and love them through their loss and sadness?